25 Best Hiking Trails in Orange County
Orange County is blessed with great weather and spectacular diverse natural surroundings that range from mountain ranges to the coast of the Pacific, so it's no wonder that hikers have a huge number of opportunities to explore nature, challenge their fitness, and enjoy magnificent views. Many trails start in the urban areas and quickly bring hikers to a completely different world of peace with nothing but the sound of birds and the wind. Most trails are open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. Photo: kiri/Fotolia
»Las Ramblas Trail
The Las Ramblas Trail starts at the outskirts of San Juan Capistrano. It is medium-difficult, 3.4-mile-long bike, horse, and hiking trail on a double fire road leading to Flagpole Hill, gaining about 900 feet in elevation. It starts with an easy gradual incline leading to one very steep hill. There's a nice adrenaline rush near the top, where the spectacular views will take your breath away. On a clear day, you can see the coastline all the way from Dana Point to Oceanside, the Santiago Peak, and the Santa Anas. The trail is open all year round, but gets very muddy after a heavy rain.
Contact: Camino Las Ramblas, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
San Clemente's Ridgeline Trail is a fairly easy paved 4.7-mile round trip hike along a ridgeline high above the city of San Clemente, with an elevation gain of 1,545 feet. The trail starts at the end of Calle Cordillera and follows the ridgeline until you reach the water tower, which is the turnaround point. Enjoy the views in all directions - towards Dana Point marina, the Santiago and Modjeska peaks, and sometimes even San Clemente and Catalina Island. The trail is pleasant all year round and you can even take your dog with you.
»Sitton Peak Trail
Sitton Peak is a fantastic place to get a wonderful view of the entire Cleveland National Forest. The trail is 10 miles long, moderately difficult, and will give you a nice workout with the elevation gain of 2,150 feet. At 3,273 feet above sea level, Sitton Peak has 360-degree views of the Cleveland National Forest, the expanse of the ocean, and Catalina Island on a clear day. Starting as a single-track path, the trail later follows various double-track fire roads. The last bit before reaching the peak will force you to scramble a bit and the trail is fairly overgrown, but the view from the top is worth it.
Contact: Sitton Peak, CA 92530
Photo: Uwe Albert-Thiele/Fotolia
»Panhe Nature Trail
The Panhe Nature Trail is an easy 1-mile hike, almost flat, perfect for taking a family for a walk through beautiful elderberry trees, coyote brush, and sage. Keep an eye out for the animals that live in the lush environment - rabbits, coyotes, bobcats, and, on rare occasions, the elusive mountain lion. Dogs are not allowed on this trail. The trail starts at the San Mateo campground and is very close to the San Onofre State Beach. To extend the walk, take a 1.5-mile trail that will bring you to the surfer's Trestles beach. You can spend the night at the Cristianitos or the San Mateo campground.
Contact: Panhe Nature Trail, CA 92058
»Chiquito Falls Trail
The Chiquito Trail to Chiquito Falls is an 8.7-mile intermediately difficult loop trail located near Lake Elsinore. You will gain almost 3,000 feet in elevation, but you will see not only Chiquito Falls, which are your turnaround point, but also the smaller San Juan Falls on the way. The trailhead is located near the Candy Store on the Ortega Highway, where you need to purchase a nature pass since you will be hiking through the Cleveland National Forest. The trail up to the San Juan Falls is often busy since it is so close to the highway, but the rest of the way to the Chiquito Falls goes through the lovely shady oak forest and you will enjoy the peace and quiet.
Contact: 34040 Ortega Hwy, Lake Elsinore, CA 92530
»Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park is a 4,500-acre regional park in the San Joaquin Hills in California consisting of diverse ecosystems of rugged canyons, old woodlands, and open grassland. The only trailhead for the main trail through the park is the Awma Road parking lot off Alicia Parkway. The almost 30-mile trail will take you through stands of mature oaks and elderberry trees and across two lively streams. The park is full of endangered plants and animals and is designated a wildlife sanctuary.
Contact: 28373 Alicia Pkwy, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677-1355
»Black Star Canyon
Black Star Canyon Trail is a 6.8-mile fairly difficult trail in the Santa Ana Mountains that does not see much traffic. No wonder, you will gain over 1,000 feet by the time you reach the top of the canyon. The trail is challenging, with large rocks and several brooks you will have to jump over. The waterfall you will pass by becomes much more interesting after a good rainfall.
Contact: 11893-12247 Black Star Canyon Rd, Silverado, CA 92676
»Carbon Canyon Regional Park
Carbon Canyon Regional Park is 124-acre diverse park located upstream from the Carbon Canyon Dam. It has nice, spacious grassy spots for picnics and ball games as well as a tennis court. A 4-acre lake in the park has a fishing pier. An undeveloped part of the park has a hiking trail through a magnificent 2-acre grove of redwoods. Park staff offers guided tours through the park for bird watchers and nature lovers.
Contact: 4442 Carbon Canyon Road, Brea, CA 92823
»Colinas Bluff Trail
Colinas Bluff Trail is a 7-mile dirt trail that follows the ridge of the bluff from Camino Los Padres. The trail is easy and mostly flat and you will gain only 125 feet in elevation. As most of the trail passes through the San Juan Capistrano, you will have to share the trail with many horseback riders from the nearby stables. From any point of the trail, you will enjoy spectacular views of Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, and the vast ocean beyond.
Contact: Laguna Niguel, CA
»El Modena Open Space
The narrow 2.5-mile-long El Modena Open Space Trail is a loop trail through Santiago Oaks Regional Park located in the city of Orange. It runs through a steep-sided small mountain range covered in cactus and sage scrub that grows over colorful 15-million-year-old volcanic rock. The trail is considered moderately difficult. It climbs about 700 feet from the trailhead.
Contact: 300 N Canon St, Orange, CA 92869
Photo: Nikolai Link/Fotolia
»Falls Canyon Trailhead
Fall Canyon Trail is a 6.6-mile back and forth trail located near Death Valley in California that is considered moderately difficult and is rarely crowded, offering a nice hike surrounded by nature. You will gain 2,752 feet in elevation, often scrambling between towering cliffs. If you are lucky, you will spot some of the myriad birds and other wildlife that live in the area. Dogs are allowed on a leash.
Contact: Silverado, CA 92676
»Great Egret Loop Trail
Great Egret Loop Trail is a 5.6-mile loop trail located in the Hidden Falls Regional Park near Orange, California. The trail is considered moderately difficult and the elevation gain is 1,036 feet. At the beginning, the trail passes through a marshy area full of flowers, frogs, and birds. As it gets steeper and higher, watch for rattlers. There are some rocks to jump over and the trail is shared with bikers and horseback riders, but it is not too crowded.
»Modjeska Peak Hike
The Modjeska Peak hike is 15 miles long and you will gain 5,160 feet, making this hike very challenging. The dirt trail is not only long and steep with a lot of straight climbing, but often very primitive. The trail ends at Modjeska Peak, the second highest point in the Santa Ana Mountains. Although narrow, the trail is also used by mountain bikers. Dogs are allowed on a leash.
Contact: Trabuco Creek Rd, Trabuco Canyon, CA, 92679
Photo: Tomasz Zajda/Fotolia
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»Orange Hills Trail
The Orange Hills Trail is a 2.7-mile trail located practically in the city of Orange, California, and is part of the El Modena Open Space. The elevation gain is 300 feet and the hike provides nice, vigorous exercise. The trail up the Orange Hill is surrounded by clumps of sage and prickly pear cactus. The views from the mile-long promontory are spectacular and on a clear day you can see the San Gabriel Mountains and Catalina Island.
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»Peters Canyon Regional Park
Peters Canyon Regional Park is 340-acre open space in the city of Orange, covered with coastal sage scrub, freshwater marsh, and grassland habitats. The Upper Peters Canyon Reservoir is surrounded by sycamores, black willows, and cottonwoods and is home to many birds. The East Ridge View Trail and the Lake View Trail are easy dirt trails that lead to the top of the hill, offering great view of Peters Canyon. Peters Canyon Loop is a 6.5-mile-long moderately difficult trail that will give you some nice exercise.
Contact: 8548 E. Canyon View Ave., Orange, CA 92869
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»Quail Hill Trailhead
The Quail Hill trailhead is located at one end of Sand Canyon Road and this is where the Quail Hill Loop Trail starts. This moderately difficult 9-mile dirt trail goes up the Quail Hill through the scenic wilderness area and you will quickly gain 1,702 feet in elevation. The view from the top of the hill goes all the way to Palos Verdes. You can bring your dog on the leash. Browse girls weekend getaways
Contact: 34 Shady Canyon, Irvine, CA 92603
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»Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock Canyon is a 10-mile lollipop-looped difficult trail in Whiting Ranch, a popular Orange County wilderness area. This trail will challenge your skills as it gains 2,152 feet in elevation, but will give you a perfect tour of the entire wilderness area. After a mile of an easy dirt trail, you will climb Dreaded Hill, which goes steadily up. The views from the top of the hill are fantastic. From there, you can pick one of many trails in different directions and enjoy the fascinating geology of the Red Rock Canyon and local scrubland along the dirt path.
Contact: Red Rock Trail, Lake Forest, CA 92610
Photo: David Smith/Fotolia
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»Roadrunner Loop Trail
The Roadrunner Loop Trail is an 1.5-mile sandy trail in Irvine Park that starts at the end of the Horseshoe Loop Trail east of the Villa Park Reservoir. The trail, which is almost level, heads north towards Weir Canyon. It is surrounded by willow groves and low native scrub. You can extend the hike by joining one of many other trails through Irvine Park.
Photo: Sergiy Serdyuk/Fotolia
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»Salt Creek Trail
The Salt Creek Trail is an easy 6.8-mile paved trail that follows Salt Creek from Laguna Niguel to Salt Creek Beach and back. It is an easy hike with a moderate incline that can be used all year round. Relax on the beach before heading back up. The trail passes through tunnels under Niguel Road, Camino del Avion, and the Pacific Coast Highway and is surrounded by housing developments.
Contact: 31535-31543 Street of the Golden Lantern, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
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»Santiago Oaks Regional Park
Santiago Oaks Regional Park in east Orange is a 1,269-acre green oasis near Santiago Creek. Secluded and peaceful, the park is heaven for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders who want a respite from the urban jungle. A network of trails intersects the park, running through mature orange groves, oak forests, and native scrub, offering magnificent views of Orange and the hills around. The trails link to the Anaheim Hills Trail System if you want to extend your hike.
Contact: 2145 Windes Dr, Orange, CA 92869
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Small Peak is a small knoll behind Orange County's Robinson Ranch in the foothills of the Cleveland National Forest. The hike up towards the Small Peak is a fairly difficult 3-mile trail that gains 1,142 feet in elevation. The gravelly dirt trail is surrounded by the native scrub and can be treacherous on the steep incline, but the view at the top of the ridge is fantastic. On a clear day, it stretches all the way to the ocean and Catalina Island.
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»Top of the World
Top of the World is a lookout in Alta Laguna Park in Laguna Beach surrounded by spectacular views that stretch all the way to the ocean. The park is a trailhead to a network of trails that lead in different directions. To climb to the lookout, you can use the fairly steep and strenuous West Ridge Trail, which follows the ridge from the Canyon View Park to the Top of the World lookout. The trail is a hard dirt fire break and can get difficult at times but offers views all along the way since it is surrounded by fields of wildflowers and has no shade.
Contact: 3299 Alta Laguna Blvd, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
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»Tour de Trestles
Tour de Trestles is a 3.7-mile-wide loop trail that takes you to the world-famous surfing Trestles Beach. As you walk from the intersection of El Camino Real and Cristianitos at the end of San Clemente, you will share the wide paved trail with bikers, skaters, and many surfers carrying their boards. It is an easy hike, almost flat, and is great for bringing the kids. The beach is one of the last unspoiled coastal areas in southern California.
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»Upper Newport Bay Nature Reserve
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve is a 1,000-acre open space that surrounds the ecological reserve. The best place to start exploring the park is the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center. The nature preserve consists of the bluffs surrounding the bay, which is a crucial stopover for a number of birds migrating over Southern California. The reserve's West Bluff has a few hiking trails, the best being the 2.5-mile West Bluff Loop Trail, which combines several trails above and below the bluff. It is an easy hike with only 75 feet of change in elevation, but the views across Upper Newport Bay are fabulous.
Contact: 2301 University Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660
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»Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park
Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park is a 2,500-acre park that consists of wetlands, woodland canyons, green rolling hills, and slopes covered in chaparral and coastal sage scrub in addition to interesting geological formations such as the fascinating Red Rock Canyon. Most of the park was lost in the fire in 2007 and is still recovering. The park has 23 trails covering more than 17 miles, mostly single-track dirt trails and graded roads. Red Rock Canyon is the most popular hiking destination.
Contact: 27901 Glenn Ranch Rd, Trabuco Canyon, CA 92679
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25 Best Hiking Trails in Orange County
- Las Ramblas Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Melpomene - Fotolia.com
- Ridgeline Trail, Photo: Courtesy of vadimvt - Fotolia.com
- Sitton Peak Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Uwe Albert-Thiele - Fotolia.com
- Panhe Nature Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Joseph - Fotolia.com
- Chiquito Falls Trail, Photo: Courtesy of prudtinai - Fotolia.com
- Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, Photo: Courtesy of steffstarr - Fotolia.com
- Black Star Canyon, Photo: Courtesy of nobodyhikesinla - Fotolia.com
- Carbon Canyon Regional Park, Photo: Courtesy of Olonkho - Fotolia.com
- Colinas Bluff Trail, Photo: Courtesy of bilanol - Fotolia.com
- El Modena Open Space, Photo: Courtesy of Nikolai Link - Fotolia.com
- Falls Canyon Trailhead, Photo: Courtesy of filtv - Fotolia.com
- Great Egret Loop Trail, Photo: Courtesy of mdalla - Fotolia.com
- Modjeska Peak Hike, Photo: Courtesy of Tomasz Zajda - Fotolia.com
- Orange Hills Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Drepicter - Fotolia.com
- Peters Canyon Regional Park, Photo: Courtesy of delkoo - Fotolia.com
- Quail Hill Trailhead, Photo: Courtesy of Aaron - Fotolia.com
- Red Rock Canyon, Photo: Courtesy of David Smith - Fotolia.com
- Roadrunner Loop Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Sergiy Serdyuk - Fotolia.com
- Salt Creek Trail, Photo: Courtesy of satoru - Fotolia.com
- Santiago Oaks Regional Park, Photo: Courtesy of kieferpix - Fotolia.com
- Small Peak, Photo: Courtesy of YariK - Fotolia.com
- Top of the World, Photo: Courtesy of lisandrotrarbach - Fotolia.com
- Tour de Trestles, Photo: Courtesy of ricardoferrando - Fotolia.com
- Upper Newport Bay Nature Reserve, Photo: Courtesy of steffstarr - Fotolia.com
- Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, Photo: Courtesy of anzebizjan - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of kiri - Fotolia.com
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